How to use compost | + Benefits of Digging it in

Use compost in your garden by digging it into soil to increase organic matter, microbes and water holding capacity of soil. Compost can be used by sprinkling it around the root zone of vegetables, fruit trees, annual flowers and shrubs to act as a slow release fertilizer. Use compost as a mulch on top of soil to retain water.

Benefit of digging compost into soil

The benefit of digging compost into the soil is that it will increase organic matter, microbes and water holding capacity of the soil. If you are re-planting your vegetable garden or planting a new spot in your garden bed, digging in compost is a great idea. Soil microbes will break down the compost making the nutrients available for your plants to absorb.

You can mix compost into the soil that you backfill new plants with

Dig compost into your soil each time you re-plant your vegetable garden. The two main planting seasons are spring and fall, so remove old crops and dig in some compost at least twice per year. If you can leave your compost in your soil for 2-4 weeks before planting it will be incorporated into your soil by microbes and be ready for your new seeds or seedlings.

How to put compost on top of soil

Put compost on top of soil to top dress your plants to give them extra nutrients. Top dress fruit trees each year with compost around the root zone to feed them. Citrus trees like limes, lemons and oranges will love a 2-3 inch layer of compost underneath their leaf canopy.

My lemon tree will be top dressed with compost each year in spring

Rake back any mulch you have under the tree and shovel the compost in underneath. Do not disturb the soil or dig the compost in as you could damage the small feeder roots that sit under the surface of the soil.

How to bury unfinished compost

Bury compost in an unused space in your garden if it has not completely broken down. Burying the compost will finish the break down process. There are a few things to remember when doing this so that you don’t damage your plants or draw nutrients from them.

Making compost using just leaves

Dig a hole away from plant root zones – Make sure you are outside of tree canopies or away from small shrub. Do not bury compost near plants because you can damage their roots.

Dig a hole big enough to backfill with soil – Make sure you dig your hole slightly deeper than the compost amount. You can then backfill with garden soil and mulch. It is also a good idea to add a shovel full of aged cow manure or handful of pelletized chicken manure at the same time. This will replace any nitrogen drawn from the soil as the microbes finish the compost break down process

Check the hole and top up with topsoil and mulch – Over time the compost will shrink within the hole and you will find the level will reduce over time. Make sure you top it up with garden soil, more compost or mulch so that it doesn’t create a tripping hazard or make your garden beds uneven.

How to add compost after planting

The best way to add compost after planting is to sprinkle it around the root zone without digging it in. If you try to dig it in you may accidentally damage the roots of the plants that you are digging around. Compost makes a great mulch and will release nutrients over time to the plant. For extra nutrients, sprinkle a handful of pelleted chicken manure under the compost first.

How to mix compost into soil

To mix compost into soil, first rake back any mulch that you have sitting on the surface of the soil. Place the compost on top of the soil and use a garden fork to mix it through.

Another great way to mix compost into soil is to mix it through in a wheelbarrow. Add up to 50% compost to the wheelbarrow and mix it together. You can then return the soil back to the hole and spread the excess around your garden. This will be a fantastic nutrient rich mix to plant into when you are ready. Cover the soil with mulch until you are ready to plant.

How to use compost in potted plants

To use compost in potted plants, mix 1 part compost to 4 parts potting soil. A well-aged compost will help your potted plants grow and provide a good environment for healthy microbe growth.  

My potted winter annuals planted in a compost mix

Compost can be used in your potted plant mix for all plants including annual flowers, raised vegetable garden beds and planting fruit trees. Mixing in perlite will help to add air and retain moisture in the mix.

When to add compost to your garden

The best times to add compost to your garden is dug into the soil at the time of planting and then sprinkled on top of the soil after the plant has established. When digging compost into your soil the ratio can be 1 part compost to 3 parts soil. Make sure that the compost is completely broken down and looks like garden soil before adding it to your garden. . If you incorporated compost into your soil, you will only need to top dress 6 months after.

Tree mulch will break down to rich compost over a long period of time. This pile will take up to another year to break down.

How to dig compost into a garden

Use a garden fork to work the compost into your soil thoroughly. If you are using a no-dig gardening method, then compost can be placed on top of the soil without disturbing the soil microbiology. I have always found that digging it in will build up the soil quicker and keep the moisture in longer.

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